As you enter 1L, here are five tips from a recent graduate. Hopefully they help keep you at least somewhat afloat.
Figure out what works for your learning style.
This may not sound particularly helpful to a 1L struggling to understand Pennoyer, Palsgraf, and the Hairy Hand case simultaneously, but the people who can do this most quickly are the ones who will succeed in their first year. Some people (myself included) learn by extensively briefing cases and carefully tracking and rewriting the court’s reasoning; others think briefing is a waste of time and recommend just jotting down a few quick notes about the facts, holding, and key principles. Some people swear by the Examples & Explanations series (or other commercial supplements); others think supplements are totally unhelpful. It may take some extra time investment to figure out what works for you, but it will be worth it in the end.
Read Getting to Maybe.
One thing I do recommend for everyone: read Getting to Maybe or a similar book on law school test-taking. Obviously, understanding the material is key to doing well on the final, but the top understander is not necessarily the top performer—if you can’t effectively transfer your knowledge from your brain to the paper, it doesn’t matter how much you know. Reading a book or two on law school exams will help you understand how to spot issues on the final and write clearly and concisely about all the potential arguments on both sides.
Tailor your approach to the professor.
Every professor will approach the class from a certain viewpoint, and will focus naturally on some areas more than others. For instance, my 1L Constitutional Law professor was a prominent originalist scholar, so it made sense to focus on originalism in the final, and the top performers in the class were the ones who did just that. It may seem a bit cynical, but adjusting your argument for your audience is a skill that actual lawyers use all the time.
Use Microsoft OneNote.
If you’re taking notes in Microsoft Word, stop it. I highly recommend Microsoft OneNote for class notes. It lets you organize your class and reading notes in one place instead of splitting them up into hundreds of Word documents. If something in class reminds you of a concept or case you talked about a few weeks ago (or even something from a different course), you can simply hit Ctrl+E to find the case or concept instead of opening all of your Word documents from the same time period. Having everything readily available also makes outlining significantly easier, which you’ll be extremely grateful for come November.
Make some time for hobbies.
Law school will consume most of your life, but you still need to be a well-rounded person and maintain some level of sanity. Work out, cook, hike, go see a concert, marathon Breaking Bad on Netflix—just do something to get your head out of the books every once in a while. They’ll be there when you get back.
3 thoughts on “5 Law School Tips for 1Ls”
I was wondering if a settlement needed to be in writing. My aunt left a big estate behind and all of her children are fighting over so many things in her will. I think they are going to need some serious mediation.
I would add visiting your professors to the list. If you are too intimated to ask them in class, go during office hours. Even if you don’t think you have questions, go see your professors and just double check that you have a handle on the material.
Barbara A. Peterson
Despite the expense, BUY and use hornbooks for each of your classes so you can read up WAY AHEAD of time, to get a handle on what those long-dragged-out cases are about. SOOOO much easier to get into the fine points of the various cases when you already know the overall “big picture” and what huge concept(s) the cases are leading up to. Show up for all your classes and, seriously, don’t be shy about throwing a prayer upstairs for God’s help and guidance as you make your merry way through it all. You’ll be fine.
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